Midsize Trucks Gain Momentum in June, New Models in Question
Contrary to a booming full-size pickup market, the US midsize truck segment hasn't been a radical point of change in recent years. Sales have bounced up and down since 2008, but with half of 2015 in the books, that trend would appear to be changing.
The segment rallied again in June, bringing total mid-year midsize pickup sales to 180,701 units, an increase of 51.8 percent over last year. At current, the midsize segment's growth earns it 15.1 percent of all new US truck sales, its highest share since 2011. If that growth rate continues to keep pace, the segment looks poised to have its best sales year since 2008.
Colorado and Canyon Take Aim at Tacoma
True to form, the Toyota Tacoma led the midsize charge, selling 88,801 units through the first six months of 2015, up 18.2 percent from last year. However, General Motors is mounting a challenge with its fresh-faced Colorado and Canyon, which have contributed a combined 56,592 units sold so far this year. In fact, with a 15 day selling rate in June, GM is working overtime just to get them to dealer lots. The Wentzville Assembly plant recently added a third shift and weekend hours to meet demand.
"We're operating at max production capacity," notes Otie McKinley, Chevrolet trucks spokesman. "We're building as many as we can and we're selling them just as quickly."
The GM duo appear to have cut into Nissan Frontier sales, which fell 22 percent last month, but have a long way to go before pulling even with the Tacoma, which has accounted for over half of all new midsize trucks sold since 2012.
For 2016, the Canyon and Colorado look to gain a competitive edge with the introduction of the segment's first turbodiesel engine, a 2.8-liter Duramax unit, while the Colorado will strive to make inroads on commercial fleet sales by offering factory box-delete and seat-delete options. Last year, fleet sales accounted for 7.4 percent of Tacoma pickups sold.
New Midsize Trucks Coming
So far, Toyota is brandishing its next-generation 2016 Tacoma to fend off the GM newcomers, while Honda is expected to launch a new Ridgeline for 2017. Nissan is expected to refresh the Frontier after the rollout of the full-size Titan. However if the midsize segment continues to show growth, these aren't the only pickups we may see.
Two new competitors may include Hyundai, which tested the waters with its Santa Cruz pickup at the Detroit auto show, as well as Mercedes-Benz, which has teamed with Nissan to build a global truck. Neither has been confirmed for the U.S., and the same story can be said of the rumored Jeep Wrangler pickup and an imported version of the Volkswagen Amarok. And there are two fairly good reasons for this. The first, building a midsize pickup is frankly very, very hard.
"The mentality for a small or midsize truck has four markers," notes one Detroit spokesman. "It's got to be priced appropriately, fuel efficient, have some type of capability, and it's got to be small. When you combine all those things and the technologies necessary to meet current standards, it makes it very difficult to create an appropriate business case."
Secondly, importing one of the many foreign-built midsize trucks causes automakers to incur the dreaded "chicken tax," a 25 percent tariff on imported light trucks, which has historically priced many of these vehicles out of American markets. Interestingly, Pacific and European trade agreements currently under negotiation could scale back and ultimately eliminate this tax in years to come, though a flood of small imported trucks to our shores looks doubtful.
Many foreign pickups weren't designed to meet U.S. emission and safety regulations. Compliance can mean billions in investment. Combine that with lower profit margins for smaller trucks, historically lower sales volumes, along with potential segment overlap, and that flood could be more of a trickle.
Ford and Ram on watch
Notable non-players in the current midsize segment, Ford and Ram, are no doubt continuing to monitor its growth, but with full-size pickup sales continuing to climb, adding new entries in a potentially fickle midsize market looks highly unlikely.
The full-size truck segment continued to power ahead through June, marking 84.9 percent of all new truck sales, and tallying 1,013,631 vehicles sold year to date - a year over year increase of 4.7 percent. Ford remains top dog at mid-year with 357,180 F-Series trucks sold, though a surging Silverado and Sierra put GM trucks in the overall sales lead.
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